Two years after standing on the Brooklyn Bridge and watching the second tower fall, I joined the Dallas Morning News. My wife, a native Dallasite, praises our new city as “a September 10 kind of place.” She means that the anxieties attending our post-9/11 New York life simply don’t exist here. The downside is that people lull themselves into a false sense of security about the Muslim community. From where I sit, it looks to me as though the entire mainstream media also live in a September 10 kind of place. We—and I say “we” because I’m part of the dreaded MSM—really don’t want to know what’s happening among Muslims in Dallas, Brooklyn, or anywhere else.
Dallas is home to a large and relatively prosperous Muslim community. The Dallas Central Mosque is Texas’s largest. The area’s Muslims, though, have had a contentious relationship in recent years with the Dallas Morning News, mostly because of the paper’s groundbreaking 2001 reporting on the Holy Land Foundation, whose leadership is now under federal terrorism indictment. Since then, local Muslim leaders have engaged in a running dialogue with the News, with the declared aim of improving relations.
It was in that spirit that Sayyid Syeed, then head of the Islamic Society of North America, came in, together with a local delegation, to see the editorial board a few months after I arrived from New York in 2003. Syeed made a laborious presentation about how journalists needed to join with the organization in promoting peace, tolerance, and reconciliation. I knew something about ISNA and asked Syeed why—if his group truly supported peace and suchlike—its board included members directly linked to Islamic extremism
and anti-Semitism, including the notorious Wahhabi-trained Brooklyn imam Siraj Wahhaj. The professorial Syeed dropped his polite mask, shook his fist at me, told me that I would one day “repent,” and compared my question with a Nazi inquisition.
Hysterical indignation, I soon learned, is the standard operating procedure for Islamic groups in dealing with the media in this town. Shortly after the Syeed meeting, I published a column in the News decrying the media’s evasion of legitimate questions about Islamic figures and organizations, hoping to shame journalists into posing them. That’s how I became, in the designation of one (now-defunct) Muslim website dedicated to criticizing the News, “the new face of hate.”
I then joined that Islamic site’s e-mail list—which contained several prominent Dallas Muslims—under my own name. Before the site operators discovered my presence and booted me off, I printed out e-mails in which participants discussed a plan to approach business and religious leaders in town and persuade them to lean on the News’s publisher to fire me as a danger to Muslims. “Dreher needs to be ruined,” one e-mailer wrote. “When people here [sic] the name ‘Rod Dreher’ the image of David Duke should appear in their mind’s eye. So, a campaign must be planned and carefully executed to expose this hate-monger and render him a joke.” Naturally, I publicized the plans and made sure that copies of the e-mails got into the hands of the newspaper’s lawyers. That apparently ended that.
I kept making a pest of myself, though, pointing out in columns and editorial-board blog postings inconvenient truths about Dallas’s Muslim community—that, for instance, the leading local imam, who positions himself as an avuncular ecumenicist, had praised on his website the radical Islamists Hasan al-Turabi and Yusuf Qaradawi as the kind of scholars American Muslims should consult. I also helped get into the News’s editorial pages disturbing facts: that the Dallas Central Mosque had participated in a contest that assigned the best-known work of the fanatical Islamic revolutionary Sayyid Qutb to teenage readers, for example, and that some local Muslim leaders had attended a “Tribute to the Great Islamic Visionary”—that would be the Ayatollah Khomeini—at a suburban mosque.
This December, another delegation of local Muslim leaders trooped into the News to meet with the editorial board, mostly to complain about, well, me, and to clear up misunderstandings that my supposedly biased rantings might have caused among my colleagues. It was a classic performance. The group obfuscated and bullied, seeking to skirt some tough questions—such as whether they wanted sharia imposed as the law of the land—and trying to make the journalists on hand feel guilty for even asking. What the Muslims were counting on: 1) a lack of specific knowledge about Islam and Islamic figures on the audience’s part; and 2) the audience’s ideological sympathy for them as members of a mistrusted minority.
Luckily, we had in the room a News reporter recently reassigned from our London bureau. He speaks Arabic and had covered the London subway bombings. When the Muslim group tried to claim that Sayyid Qutb was a fringe figure, my newsroom colleague said no, he’s not, and one can easily find his work in Islamic bookshops in England, where it has contributed to the radicalization of British Muslim youth. So it wasn’t just that right-wing Dreher guy from New York—traumatized by 9/11, alas for him—asking these questions. It’s amazing how undone these Muslim leaders become when informed journalists, refusing to be intimidated into embarrassed silence, confront them with the facts.
Later, after I blogged about the meeting, the group’s leader fired off an e-mail to me and my supervisors accusing me of single-handedly burning every bridge built between the Dallas Muslim community and the newspaper. I’d hate for that to be true. But far worse for those bridges to remain standing if built on the dangerous notion that the news media should always publish happy-clappy news about local Muslims and shun any healthy suspicion about things such as Khomeini tributes, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian hate literature showing up in mosque libraries (as happened here), and the like.